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Plaintiff May Not Add New Defendants in Malpractice Suit After Statute of Limitations Has Passed – State ex rel. Holzum v. Schneider

By July 28, 2011July 10th, 2019Medical Malpractice, Missouri Legal Decisions

One frequent problem for St. Louis medical malpractice lawyers is that clients don’t understand that their claims have a deadline. In every state, including Missouri and Illinois, we have laws called statutes of limitations that are deadlines for filing a lawsuit; they usually run from one to four years and can be extended under special circumstances. Failure to meet this deadline generally means you cannot bring your claim at all, no matter how valid it might be. This was nearly the case in State ex rel. Holzum v. Schneider, in which the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Eric Katz could not sue various medical defendants for medical malpractice in the death of his mother. The Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling means Katz may pursue his claim only against one defendant.
Alverna Katz fell and hit her head on October 1 or 2 of 2005. She died in the emergency room at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. Three years later, on the evening of October 2, 2008, Eric Katz filed his wrongful death and medical malpractice suit against Washington University Medical Center, Barnes-Jewish and John and Jane Doe, as medical providers. Attorneys for Katz said they rushed the lawsuit after the plaintiff contacted them 24 minutes before the clerk’s office would close on the last day to file. More than two years later, Katz filed an amended petition dropping Washington University Medical Center and adding three individual doctors, plus BC Emergency Physicians. The new defendants moved to dismiss because the statute of limitations had expired. After that motion was denied, they appealed to the state Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition keeping the trial court from moving forward.
On appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether the action against the new defendants was “commenced” before the statute of limitations ended, or whether the Doe and Washington University defendants could stand in for the new defendants on the amended petition. Court rules allow plaintiffs to name new defendants, as long as new defendants are given notice “within the period provided by law for commencing the action against the party and serving notice of the action.” That is, plaintiffs wishing to change who they are suing must give notice to the new defendants within the normal time allowed to serve papers for the original complaint. That did not happen with the Katz claim, the court said. Nor were the John and Jane Doe defendants enough to give the new defendants adequate notice, because they were too vaguely described to provide adequate notice to the actual defendants that they were being sued. Thus, the amended petition does not reach back, and the new defendants were granted permanent writs of prohibition keeping them out of the case.
This decision is not necessarily fatal for the medical malpractice lawsuit brought by Katz, but as a Missouri medical negligence attorney, I know it could cripple his case considerably. By limiting who Katz may sue to just one correct defendant, the court has certainly eliminated the number of people who can be held legally and financially responsible. Depending on the facts of the case, it may also have eliminated the people most directly responsible for the care of Alverna Katz. To make matters worse, it’s likely that this wouldn’t have taken place if the attorneys for Eric Katz had had more time to research the facts of the case and prepare their lawsuit. This is why southern Illinois personal injury lawyers like ours are very, very conscious of statutes of limitations. We want to do the best job we can for our clients — but sometimes, deadlines make that difficult or bar the case altogether.

If you or someone you love suffered a serious injury because of a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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